Techstars Chicago may not have held its annual Demo Day at the House of Blues, but the 10 startups that took the stage at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Thursday night still rocked the house.
“This is a no-sizzle evening,” Techstars Chicago managing director and Belly founder Logan LaHive told the crowd at the event.
Indeed, the event was fairly sizzle-free. Unlike in years past, there was no live music, no keynote, no light show and no R2-D2 sightings. That’s not due to lack of imagination, but by a desire to change what Demo Day is designed to accomplish.
When LaHive took over as managing director in February, one of his goals was to make Techstars Chicago “insanely founder focused.” Part of that new focus meant making Demo Day less about throwing a community-driven event and more about getting the cohort’s companies in conversation with investors.
So, instead of the familiar pomp and circumstance at the House of Blues, the accelerator held a day-long Investor Demo Day at 1871 on Wednesday. But the re-imagined community Demo Day at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Thursday night still offered founders the opportunity to pitch to friends, family, mentors, customers and supporters.
The founders who took the stage survived a rigorous vetting process. Techstars Chicago received over 3,000 applications for its 2017 cohort. Of those 3,000 startups, 350 were given an in-person interview and only 25 were invited to Chicago for a final interview.
The Techstars Chicago 2017 cohort underwent a rigorous 90-day bootcamp designed to turn budding startups into big businesses. Judging by the Demo Day pitches, the cohort is ahead of schedule.
Abode co-founder Kyle Stoner said that when the company joined Techstars Chicago, it existed only as an idea. Fast forward three months and Stoner can pitch a functional cloud-based platform that uses data science to match home buyers with the right realtor. Abode is actually the second startup Stoner and co-founder Carson Junginger founded, having also founded Pangea Money Transfer.
How big a dent does a Starbucks habit put into a retirement plan? That’s just one of the questions Harbor, a retirement planning platform, is out to answer. Harbor analyzes financial accounts and spending habits to tell users how much they need to contribute to retirement each month, along with which companies and plans are right for them.
Immersed uses virtual reality to help remote teams become better connected and more productive. The startup uses proprietary artificial intelligence and computer vision to give any laptop camera the power of motion tracking, allowing users to interact with their virtual workstations and coworkers using their own hands.
“Our platform brings all the elements of the physical office into the virtual world,” founder Renji Bijoy said.
Omelas had the most intense presentation of the day, and that’s because it’s working in an intense industry. The startup uses data analytics, machine learning and qualitative analysis to help companies and government agencies understand and combat terrorist recruitment efforts.
Co-founder Benjamin Dubow earned points for the most unique use case when he talked about how Omelas had helped foil the plans of a Macedonian terrorist.
4Degrees is designed to help people better utilize their professional relationships. The platform syncs and analyzes contact data, categorizing those contacts to let users know who is best to reach out to in certain professional situations.
“Your network is your biggest source of opportunity and you engage very little of it,” co-founder Ablorde Ashigbi told the crowd.
According to Allie co-founder Emily Hsieh, the top reason tech workers quit their jobs is due to unfair or inequitable work environments. Enter Allie, a Slack bot designed to uncover and proactively address hidden biases and provide employees an outlet for reporting microaggressions.
Hsieh says Allie has drawn interest from many companies, with SpotHero and Pandora reportedly on the startup’s waiting list.
Elemetric is an API service for the blockchain internet. The startup was originally working to help digital-native companies better understand consumers but pivoted to the blockchain space about a month before demo day. Despite that change in focus, founder Daniel Mason said Elemetric already has its first customer.
Swag.com helps companies create swag people actually want. The e-commerce platform’s clients include tech industry heavyweights like Facebook, Google and WeWork. CEO Jeremy Parker’s pitch was well-received despite the fact that he didn’t bring any swag for the crowd.
Futury helps engineers make data-driven career decisions. Using artificial intelligence and real-time market data, the platform tells users whether a job matches their career goals.
Co-founder Maor Idan said he was inspired to build Futury after accepting a software engineer job based solely on salary and realizing within six months that his career was going nowhere.
Paladin is a cloud-based platform that helps legal teams run better pro bono programs. The platform makes it easier to manage those programs and monitor employee engagement. Founder Felicity Conrad said pro bono is the fastest growing segment of social corporate responsibility, which could explain how Paladin has already landed Verizon as a customer.
Image via Shutterstock.
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